John Delk (2009)


John Delk

ArtForum magazine by James Yood

Like a sly human computer, Brooklyn-based artist John Delk amasses vast quantities of data, which he processes and shuffles, changing up the platform to reconsider the content. A typical project is Pressed (all works cited, 2009), in which he took issues of the Wall Street Journal published during the spring of 2008, extracted the 1,358 hedcuts that appeared during that period (the paper’s iconic small-scale portraits), and printed them on an extremely long scroll, in chronological order and to scale. Universally recognized faces often make multiple appearances and share this stage with ephemeral newsmakers of the day, but no one is identified. And since only a portion of the 115-foot scroll is visible at a time, the stippled and hatched drawings seem to continue in perpetuity. (The work offers a glimpse of the contemporary demographics of capitalist power; most of the heads are those of men.) Evidence of a mind-numbingly obsessive attitude also marks Stream. The artist collected news headlines from the Internet for five years, transcribed them, and linked the fragments together with conjunctions to form an enormous run-on sentence, which he typed into a single thirty-two-foot-long piece of fax paper. (A fragment: “…Sharon stable, in coma still after sniper link eyed in Wash. area slaying because of arrests made in Istanbul bombing but China may send to fight piracy if FAA…”) This project has a strange and compelling beat poetry quality, the headlines becoming imagist fodder in a typed stream of media consciousness, without beginning or end. And, as if to underscore the disposability of his text, Delk hangs the missive so that it unfurls from a porcelain fixture, like the toilet tissue or paper towels.

And so it goes. John Delk is a print featuring the entire binary code from the audio file of the artist speaking his own name aloud. Saying “John Delk” took approximately one second, but generated more than a million 0’s and 1’s. As a self-portrait, the work is both exact and obfuscating, proffering an abundance of information that to viewers means nothing. The drily subversive sting palpable here is characteristic of Delk, who often hints that the data platforms of our age are in danger of collapse.

Delk also included a series of sculptures that more tersely exemplifies his ideas. Universal Remote is a standard remote control cast in lead- a portal to entertainment and information rendered nonfunctional, an impotent magic wand. In Fragment, Delk laser-etched text from a Nigerian scam-style e-mail onto the desiccated jawbone of a horse, conjoining an ephemeral (and pathetic) index of the contemporary- computer spam- and a symbol of the eternal. But there is a shade of irony to works like these; Delk seems more amused with than annoyed by the phenomena he observes, and his work is a wry and chastened commentary on the culture frailties of the digital age.

- James Yood

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